|Ragwort Quick Facts|
|Scientific Name:||Jacobaea vulgaris|
|Origin||Europe, North Africa, Caucasus and Western Asia|
|Shapes||Round, ridged, glabrous–shortly haired, approx. 2 mm (0.8 in.) long achene|
|Health benefits||Beneficial for burns, sores, cancerous ulcers and eye inflammations|
One of the old English names for ragwort is “stammerwort”, referring to the common belief that it could be used to treat stuttering. Although the plant is often undesirable by landowners because it is considered a weed by many, it offers a great deal of nectar for pollinators. It was rated in the top 10 for most nectar production (nectar per unit cover per year) in a UK plants survey conducted by the AgriLand project which is supported by the UK Insect Pollinators Initiative. It also was the top producer of nectar sugar in another study in Britain, with a production per floral unit of (2921 ± 448μg). The medicinal use of these plants without medical supervision is not advisable.
Ragwort is an herbaceous biennial, winter annual or short-lived perennial (usually monocarpic) plant that grows about (20- ) 80-150 cm tall. The plant is generally considered to be biennial but it has the tendency to display perennial properties under certain cultural conditions (such as when subjected to repeated grazing or mowing). The plant is found growing abundant in waste land, waysides and grazing pastures. It can be found along road sides, and grows in all cool and high rainfall areas, railway embankments, ballast soil deposits, harbors, yards and meadows. The plant prefers lighter, well-drained soils. The plant has poorly developed to evident tap root. Stems are branched, deep-grooved, sparsely hairy, reddish brown, erect, stiff, straight, have no or few hairs.
Leaves are alternate, often petiolate, becoming reduced in size upward, broadly ovate to ovate, deeply, bi- or tri-pinnatifid, 7-20 cm long and 2-6 cm wide. Basal leaves form a rosette, first leaves ovate, blunt, successive leaves lyrate-pinnatifid with 0-6 pairs of lateral lobes, early deciduous. Upper leaves more or less amplexicaul, auricles laciniate. Leaves differ in the degree of dissection, width of the lobes and in the presence of cottony hairs on the abaxial surfaces. The many names that include the word “stinking” (and Mare’s Fart) arise because of the unpleasant smell of the leaves.
Flower & Fruit
Hermaphrodite flower heads are 1.5–2.5 centimeters (0.59–0.98 in) diameter, and are borne in dense, flat-topped clusters; the florets are bright yellow. It has a long flowering period lasting from June to November. Pollination is done by bees, flies, moths, and butterflies. Fruit is a round, ridged, glabrous–shortly haired, approx. 2 mm (0.8 in.) long achene with unbranched hairs on tip. The medicinal use of these plants without medical supervision is not advisable.
There are four main types of ragwort to be found in Ireland according to An Irish Flora (1996) namely:
- Common Ragwort Senecio jacobaea – found everywhere
- Marsh Ragwort Senecio aquaticus – wet fields, marshes esp. western counties
- Oxford Ragwort Senecio squalidius – mainly in our larger cities, rare elsewhere
- Hoary Ragwort Senecio erucifolius – locally, Dublin, Meath
All four can interbreed where both parents are found.
Traditional uses and benefits of Ragwort
- The plant is astringent, diaphoretic, diuretic, emenagogue and expectorant.
- An emollient poultice is made from the leaves.
- Juice of the plant is cooling and astringent and is used as a wash in burns, sores, cancerous ulcers and eye inflammations.
- It makes a good gargle for ulcerated mouths and throats.
- It is also said to take away the pain of a bee sting.
- Decoction of the root is said to be good for treating internal bruises and wounds.
- It is used in the treatment of dysmenorrhea and other female complaints, internal hemorrhages and other internal disorders.
- Juice is cooling and astringent, and use as a wash in burns, inflammations of the eye, and also in sores and cancerous ulcers.
- It is used with success in relieving rheumatism, sciatica and gout.
- Poultice of the green leaves being applied to painful joints and reducing the inflammation and swelling.
- It makes a good gargle for ulcerated throat and mouth.
- Decoction of the root has been reputed good for inward bruises and wounds.
- In some parts of the country Ragwort is accredited with the power of preventing infection.
- In folk medicine, the herb was used externally (mixed with pig fat) as an ointment for relieving pain in the arms, hips, and legs.
- The plant was also used to treat throat inflammation in humans and in horses.
- Poultice made from the plant was laid on the throat, or it was infused in water and used as a gargle.
- Ragwort extract was used internally as an herbal remedy for coughs and colds.
- It was also used in the past to relieve pain related to sciatica, rheumatism, arthritis and gout, often in combination with wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) and lobelia.
- Branch of ragweed was worn as protection against a variety of infectious deceases.
- Ragwort may be useful in treating burns, sores and eye infections and it may also be helpful as a gargle to treat mouth ulcers and sore throat.
- It is used to treat a variety of health conditions such as intestinal worms, internal bleeding, menstrual disorders and other female related ailments.
- Ragwort is used for leucorrhea or suppressed menstruation.
- Native Americans, early settlers and herbalists used it to speed childbirth and to induce abortion.
- Useful for rheumatism, sciatica, joint pains, lung ailments, dysentery, diarrhea, dysmenorrhea, lumbago, prostatitis, wounds, bronchial asthma, constipation, ulcers, colic, intestinal problems, blood purifier, high blood pressure, canker sores, chronic sores, coughs, and colds.
- Yellow dye is obtained from the flowers when alum is used as a mordant.
- Good green dye is obtained from the leaves, though it is not very permanent.
- Brown and orange can also be obtained.
- Over a season, one plant may produce 2,000 to 2,500 yellow flowers in 20- to 60-headed, flat-topped corymbs.
- The number of seeds produced may be as large as 75,000 to 120,000
- Ragwort contains many different alkaloids, making it poisonous to certain animals.
- All parts of the plant are poisonous.
- Plant contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, in isolation these substances are highly toxic to the liver and have a cumulative affect even when the whole plant is consumed.
- When applied internally it can cause severe damage to the liver.
- Some people develop a rash from merely touching this plant.
- Ragwort is a highly poisonous plant that should never be used internally in any form or externally on open wounds.
- Plant can also cause skin rashes in sensitive people just by a simple touch.
- These substances are carcinogenic and can cause severe liver damage (necrosis and cirrhosis) both in humans and animals.
- Small doses ingested over a long period of time can ultimately lead to deadly poisoning.
- Symptoms of ragwort poisoning in animals are digestion system failure, restlessness, hepatitis, blindness, shaking of legs or leg tremors and eventually total collapse.
- In several countries, serious poisoning in humans has been reported when food grains have been adulterated with seeds from different Senecio species.
- Researchers believe that the high rate of liver cancer in rural Africa is caused by large amounts of ragweed in uncleaned bread grains.
- Symptoms of poisoning in humans can be abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, headache, enlarged liver, apathy and abnormal weight loss.
- People have also been poisoned indirectly by consuming milk or honey that is contaminated with ragwort.
- Like so many plants in the daisy family (Asteraceae), ragwort can cause an allergic reaction (contact dermatitis) in sensitive people.
Methods of controlling Ragwort
The only way to safeguard against loss from ragwort poisoning is to eradicate the weed either by pulling, ploughing, cutting or chemical control.
Pulling by hand is suggested where infestation is not severe and labor is available. Pulling after heavy rainfall when the ground is soft gives best results, but this should be done before seed has set. Pulled plants should be removed and destroyed. As the seedling and rosette stages are not usually removed by hand pulling, the operation should be repeated for two consecutive years to achieve satisfactory eradication. In most cases this is unpractical.
Most reliable method of control is to plough infested grassland and follow with a 3 or 4 year rotation of arable cropping before establishing a good ley again. Unfortunately this can only be done in areas which can be tilled and where arable farming is practiced. Ploughing followed by direct seeding will not be a success unless chemical control (2.4DB or MCPA) of newly germinated ragwort is carried out in the new ley. Extra care should be taken to prevent the development of seeding ragwort in new ley.
Cutting the plant before the flowers are open prevents the weed from seeding and spreading, but it is only of limited value unless carried out over a number of years and accompanied by good grassland management. In some cases cutting can induce development of several heads and the affected plants may persist as perennials. Cut plants should be collected and destroyed as an additional precaution against the risk of seed formation and livestock poisoning.